Professor Awarded Fellowship to Pilot ‘Solutions Journalism’ with Students


Balderas Professor Israel Balderas, a veteran TV reporter, is one of 21 people worldwide selected for the Solutions Journalism Network’s highly-competitive LEDE Fellowship, a training pipeline between seasoned journalists and the next generation.

The LEDE fellowship is so-named because the network sought projects that would 1) Leverage expertise, 2) Engage the community, 3) Disseminate solutions stories and 4) Elevate untold stories and unheard voices.

For Balderas’ project, the University’s student-led newsroom The Beacon Today is teaming up with community partners to produce news videos about leaders and programs that are working to solve societal problems. The students preserve independence by adopting solutions journalism principles.

Solutions journalism focuses in-depth on a response to a problem and how the response works. It does not advocate for one particular policy. Such reporting focuses on effectiveness, rather than good intentions, and presents available evidence of results, according to the Solutions Journalism Network.

“It’s not silver bullet,” Balderas said. “It’s not hero worship. It’s data-driven.”

Amber Amortegui, a junior majoring in journalism, has already produced one such piece, which will be published on the American Heart Association’s PROJECT: Community website. Amortegui’s story is about Joi Cardwell, an award-winning singer-songwriter who teaches yoga and meditation classes in northwest West Palm Beach, where many people cannot afford gym memberships or expensive exercise equipment. Cardwell makes her classes accessible to all, regardless of ability to pay.

Redemptive storytelling is a major focus of the University, which is proud to partner with the Solutions Journalism Network, on this important project, said Dr. Randy Richards, provost.

“Great stories capture imagination, fuel passions and have a way of sticking with us,” Richards said. “For all those reasons and more, when we have an important message like ‘heart health,’ storytelling is a powerful tool for reshaping attitudes and changing behaviors.”

Balderas is exploring opportunities for students to work with additional nonprofit organizations, such as Community Partners of South Florida and the Caridad Center, on affordable housing and immigration issues, respectively.

Students learn to work through story pitches, practice interviewing skills, employ research techniques, show empathy and manage their time. Whether or not students become professional journalists, they can use the skills they learn to be engaged in civic life, Balderas said.

“This is such a win-win for us,” Balderas said. “It’s an acknowledgement that what we care about at PBA as a liberal arts institution, part of being good citizens, is journalism. It’s teaching students a love for the First Amendment.”

Additionally, Balderas sees solutions journalism as a way for the media to win back audience. This week, he is presenting to 100 journalists from around the world at the Solutions Journalism Network conference.

“This is a way for us to gain back our trust, in that they see what we’re doing is beneficial,” Balderas said. “It’s informative.”


Photo: Professor Israel Balderas shares about solutions journalism during the Art of Storytelling conference in October. He was selected for the Solutions Journalism Network's LEDE Fellowship to implement solutions journalism principles with The Beacon Today staff.